This fingertip-size device can't exactly cough, but it can get a lung disease. For the first time, researchers have reproduced some of the effects of a disease in a microchip. The scientists' "organ-on-a-chip" technology is still under development, but they hope it someday will help test therapeutic drugs more quickly and reliably than current methods allow.
"There's a huge need to find more predictive alternatives" to the lab mice that pharmaceutical companies rely on now, said Geraldine Hamilton, who worked on the diseased lung-on-a-chip. Hamilton manages the organs-on-a-chip research program at Harvard University's Wyss Institute. "We think that the organs on chips truly provide that alternative," she told TechNewsDaily.
Organs-on-a-chip are plastic microchips designed to act as small, simplified versions of lungs, hearts and other bodily organs. Unlike the microchips in computers, they don't have circuits imprinted on them. Instead, they're etched with tiny channels that carry water, air, blood or other biological fluids. The channels are lined with living cells taken from either rats or humans, to help them act more like real organs.
The researchers who make them hope they'll become more-accurate testing grounds for drugs than lab rats, or simple collections of cells grown in a Petri dish, are. The vast majority of newly invented treatments that work well in lab mice don't ultimately work in people.